Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

« Preview: Al Qaeda, Earmarks | Main | Here, There and Everywhere »

Why Earmarks Matter

by Ryan Alexander, President of Taxpayers for Common Sense

At Taxpayers for Common Sense, we believe that the impact of earmarks is greater than the billions of dollars they cost the federal treasury. With a federal budget close to $3 trillion, we know that earmarks are not the only source of government waste. But the earmarking process is a breakdown in democratic decision-making in the Congress. We are putting the unprecedented amount of power to direct billions of dollars of projects in the hands of very small group of legislators and lobbyists. The all-consuming chase for earmarks distracts Congress and takes time away from important policy debates.

This year alone, there were more than 30,000 requests for earmarks in the House of Representatives – all of which had to be reviewed by staff on the Appropriations Committee. That’s a tremendous amount of effort and time to bring $100,000 for a theater renovation or $150,000 for Robotics Training Equipment at a local community college to a local congressional district. Don’t get me wrong, these and other projects may deserve federal support, but most of us don’t get a chance to ask why these projects are better than others or why they should be funded first before other projects. The lack of a competitive or a meritorious process means that projects may be ignored in favor of those backed by the politically powerful.

When so much time and resources spent deciding which project gets $100,000 or $1 million, we divert the Congress’ attention from the major policy debates that should be guiding congressional debate. How do we address the growing federal budget deficit? How can we ensure excellence and accountability in defense spending? Are we spending more money to have private contractors do the work we used to complete with government workers?

But, possibly the worst thing about earmarks is that they have become the currency of corruption. Also, this decade of rapid growth of earmarks coincided with one of the most lax periods of Congressional oversight of the federal government. This lax scrutiny makes earmarks ripe for abuse.

What can you do to help reign in earmarking? Demand better information, and more accountability from your elected officials. An informed constituent is a powerful force. Work with Taxpayers for Common Sense to bring earmarks out of the shadows of the Congress and into the public light. TCS has been tracking all that information and pulling it together into searchable databases available to the public on our Web site. See what your member of Congress is up to.

Also, ask your lawmaker to disclose all of the earmark requests they are making. We are only able to track the successful requests, but there are tens of thousands of requests that are unknown. If a member of Congress is willing to sign on the dotted line asking for federal funding, the public should be able to know that.

Finally, after reviewing all the information, tell them what you think. And tell us what you think, too.

When one of his earmarks was challenged recently, Rep. Don Young (R-AK) complained that people were trying to take “my money.” That’s how earmarks have twisted things in Washington. It’s our money, it’s our government. Work with Taxpayers for Common Sense to make the budget more transparent and more accountable to taxpayers.


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.pbs.org/moyers/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/358

Comments

Thank you, Bill Moyers, & PBS for all you do in the name of information & common sense. I carried a Thompson SMG in WWII. I was full of idealism in the '40s. It has faded somewhat lately. The spin & lying gets me down. Your programs revives my spirit.

Thank you, Bill Moyers, & PBS for all you do in the name of information & common sense. I carried a Thompson SMG in WWII. I was full of idealism in the '40s. It has faded somewhat lately. The spin & lying gets me down. Your programs revives my spirit.

Mr. Moyer:

Thank you soo very very much for this report on earmarks, exposing the truth in the disgusting use of Congressional Earmarks to repay the large corporate contributors for funding their campaigns. I found the evidence of the blatant devious methods of codoing to hide the extent of the tax-free gifts to their contributors to their campaigns totally disgusting and quite enlightening. I found the forced purchase of items not needed or even desired by the Military - along with the fact that some of the products forced on the militry were even harmful to the USA Military servicemen and women whom are voluntarily serving their country.
THIS ACTION IS NO DIFFERENT THAN OUTRIGHT THEFT THAT SHOULD BE PUNISHED AS IF IT WAS A MAJOR FELONY - WITH COMMENSURATE BILLION DOLLAR FINES AND THE AUTOMATIC LOSS OF THEIR CORPORATE BUSINESS LICENSE. FOR THE ELECTED CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVES -THEY SHOULD BE FORCEFULLY, AUTOMATICALLY AND PERMANENTLY REMOVED FROM THEIR POLITICAL OFFICES. ESPECIALLY INCLUDING THE OUTRAGEOUS AMOUNT OF FINANCIAL SPENDING IN EARMARKS BY THE SENATOR FROM NEW YOUK. SHE SHOULD BE REMOVED FROM POLITICAL OFFICE IMMEDIATELY AND DISQUALIFIED FROM HER BID TO BECOME A CANDIDATE FOR THE PRESIDENCY OF THE USA.
THEN SHE NEEDS TO FACE FELONY CHARGES FOR THEFT OF DOLLARS FROM USA CITIZENS.
MR MOYER- I ENCOURAGE YOU TO CONTINUE TO FOLLOW THE UNETHICAL EAR MARK ACTIONS AND MAKE ALL THAT YOU FIND PUBLIC ON AN ONGOING BASIS.

THANK YOU AGAIN,
B SMITH

More than $2.050 Trillion has been earmarked(taken by all congressmen and senators in the last 75+ years since the very begining of Social Security Trust Fund (SSTF) and later medicare) from the uncomitted surplus funds in the the US Treasury . By far the majority of these uncomitted, Earmarked funds have been Surplus SSTF and Medicare Funds placed there to pay future Social Security and Medicare obligations. If this money were still in the U S Treasury niether SSTF,nor Medicare would be in any jeopardy today!!!The only sensible long term fiscal action, or sanity now-is to start a long term yearly incremental repayment of this great debt for the next 100 years; the yearly repayment increment to a new lockbox(1/100th) before any foriegn aid is given would be $20.50 Billion/year(a mere fraction of what we are giving away every year). Along with this,of course- fiscal sanity demands that there must be legislation to provide for congressional leaders and/or Presidential Line Item Veto to absolutely prevent frivolous spending and promote long term finacial health by fiscal discipline.Placing this money in the lockbox to underpin the US Economy and pay future SSTF and Medicare Obligations - never to be otherwise used except for a Bona fide National emergencies - obtained only by a 2/3 Majority House and Senate Vote would most likely insure its proper use only for legitimate emergemcies. Also, raising the minmum social security retirement age to 68 years would also help. 75 years is already the age when everyone starts receiving SSTF payments, regardless of wether you retire or continue working beyond 75. All of the above in one Omnmibus Bill would launch a sweeping change in legislative financial culture, and help to return us to long term fiscal sanity and prosparity. Respectfully , John R. Hicks , a retired Professional Engineer.

Earmarks went from 3000 to 15000+ in 2001 to present. I doubt it wii change very much.Republicans have squashed many good bills,or,if passed Bush vetoes them. Earmarks will continue,impeachment will fail because the public is caught between a rock and a hard place.An imperial-military gov't,autocrat in the W.H. and omly 30% of congress to represent them. I'm hoping this country can survive one more year of Bush/Chaney and this congress.

Watchdog Group Says Murtha Is King Of Earmarks

Aug 4, 2007 2:30 pm US/Eastern (AP) JOHNSTOWN A Washington, D.C. watchdog group says U.S. Representative John Murtha, the powerful Democrat from Johnstown, is the king of Congressional earmarks.

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, Murtha has more than $150 million earmarked for 48 pet projects in a proposed House defense spending bill.

The $460 billion bill includes more than 1,300 earmarks totaling $3 billion.

Murtha chairs the House's powerful panel on defense spending.

The watchdog group tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that all earmarks aren't bad -- but the group says too often earmarks are awarded on the basis of a lawmaker's clout instead of the merits of the project.


http://kdka.com/local/local_story_216142608.html


...... and why did Moyers cite a Republican for his story?

The democratic form of government generally means that we all feel represented. To that end, we send individuals to congress to represent us. The process of earmarking is the means to that end. How can we expect the individual representatives to act in the best interest of the federal level of government if they are sent there to represent our local interest. With the media’s help, we the people must ourselves act in the best interest of the United States, to select competent people who know how to conduct foreign and national business. They can’t be a farmer, or a mayor. Can the media help overcome this logistical hurdle to improvement? We can’t just demolish the mechanism and start all over, but with enough consistent talk we might be able to migrate there.


Earmarks are chicken feed for projects by a congressmnan in his local district.

The big money are the Boehnermarks where Majority Leader John Boehner has directed hundreds of billions of tax dollar benefits to oil companies, finance companies, insurance companies, tobacco companies and other large national and international conglomerates and offshore tax shelters.

These are where the big campaign contributions originate to corrupt our national finances. Unlike common earmarks, these Boehnermarks don't attract the attention or inspection by the voters in his local district; the unknowing southwestern Ohio voters who put him in office.

One columnist even said that Boehner is very good at "simulating virtue".

One of the first Boehnermarks was the hahding out of cigarette industry checks to his fellow congressmen on the floor of the House of Representatives while they were in session and considering tobacco legislation.

An endorsement in a national magazine of a late arriving and unknown Democratic challenger to Boehner in 2006, was justified because Boehner was referred to as "one of the ten worst politicians" in the House of Representatives.

But virtuous John has stayed in office for over 18 years because he's proud to say "I don't take earmarks".

Now that's what I call good Republican leadership - and it works!

Your show on impeachment was the best show of yours that I've seen. I've have seen many and have been a loyal view of Now as well as this show and others before it. Impeachment is THE issue of the day, it is what everyone is dreaming and hoping for and no one else in the media was giving it any airtime. I have requested of my Senators and Congressman that they all publicly support impeachment proceedings and have suggested that they view this show or listen to my personal views on the compelling reasons why those in power in Congress must impeach. As a lawyer and a person who understands the vital importance of the rule of law and the need for our leaders to follow it, this show made me actually muscle up a few ounces more of energy and a few minutes to make my views clearly known to my elected officials.

Bill!

Thanks for the interview with Barbara Ehrenreich!

Your conversation ranked up there with the historic conversation with Kurt Vonnegut.

I was shock that Congress using earmarks for their personal purpose without telling the other representatives or senators, the people, and the states. How could Congress do this to the American people. So I wonder where is the money that citizens give to Congress where do they really go. I hope PBS is not using earmarks on the viewers. I'm glad that the earmark production is over as in Congress has to inform the people and everybody and not use it for their personal use because the people nor states didnt ask for it and does not want it. Just give what the people want, not what Congress wants for their own stupid pleasure. This would give Congress a big lession about how they are using the peoples' money and how earmark is affecting mostly Americans for not getting what they actually want.

I was shock that Congress using earmarks for their personal purpose without telling the other representatives or senators, the people, and the states. How could Congress do this to the American people. So I wonder where is the money that citizens give to Congress where do they really go. I hope PBS is not using earmarks on the viewers. I'm glad that the earmark production is over as in Congress has to inform the people and everybody and not use it for their personal use because the people nor states didnt ask for it and does not want it. Just give what the people want, not what Congress wants for their own stupid pleasure. This would give Congress a big lession about how they are using the peoples' money and how earmark is affecting mostly Americans for not getting what they actually want.

Let get to the cause instead of fighting symptoms.

Alan Watt
http://cuttingthroughthematrix.net
http://www.alanwattsentientsentinel.eu/

THANK YOU for your segement on "sacrifice" ! Could there have been any more excuses ? Do they really think that the soldiers fighting now do not want to go to College or do "something else" in their life ? When less than 1 percent of the American population is doing the fighting, what more can you expect from the folks that believe "fighting them over there rather than fighting them here" is reasonable in a place that we should have NEVER gone!? I believe the "Bush twins" are of age... Oh,yeah, daddy said for all of us to "just go shopping"! I guess I'll see them (and every other "Bush Clan" )at the mall. What HYPOCRISY! Please do a follow-up/full segment on this topic and hire independent journalist Max Blumenthal. He did a great job ! Thank you for your time !

I can only thank God for people like Bill Moyers and TCS.
Keep up the great work!

The bridge to knowwere is a slape in the face to the people who have suffered due to Katina. The money Ted Stevens talk about shows how greedy he is and lacking in humility or respect for peoples plight.
The Democratic Congress &
Senate should resend that bill and Bush Tax Cut to big business as well.

Why is it, that people have such a hard time believing what has really been going on in our government? I ask you, to not pass judgement, on the documentary "Loose Change". Watch this, just one time, VERY, VERY, carefully. If you don't think that this film proves over and over, time after time,....... well, just watch it one time, with your undivided attention. Don't miss one sentance. Then, ask questions, demand answers!

The use of earmarks is quite disturbing and more disturbing is the way the particulars of earmarks is tightly guarded barring the duplication of this information.

Instead of earmarks, I feel the money should be turned over to state governments to spend on needed services.

As an aside, on www.myfoxny.com's blog site, they just implemented what I see as censorship; it's an "approval process" when someone wants to post or update their blog. I'm wondering if my blog is the reason for this and is the government intervening with fox to censor my story. My story is in the News blog and is entitled Mind Control Directed Energy. This is a subject well covered by Dr. Nick Begich in his July 29th webcast at www.gcnlive.com and his new book "Controlling the Human Mind" which can be obtained at his website, http://www.earthpulse.com.

Great piece on Congressional earmarks. My many thanks to those working on the problem at TCS.

What we need is a Constitutional Amendment providing for a national referendum clause in the Constitution. The amendment would allow a popular vote to address such issues and completely bypass this nonsense of a representative government. Because let's face it, "We the People" are not being represented. A direct vote by the general population needs to become the real "Fourth Estate" of our democracy.

In the meantime, I will continue to look to PBS, Bill Moyers Journal, NOW, and Frontline for credible news and information.

Why isn't main stream media reporting more and educating citizens more about this ? Why is it so hard to get the truth out to the American people about what really goes on in Washington? CNN will focus on Lohan hour after hour , but not tell us about the things we need to know to make our country strong again. Imagine what could be accomplished with all this money , New Orleans would have been saved for one!Thank you Bill for doing such a great job!

Just wanted to add that during the Reagan/Bush1 period, it was discovered that the Pentagone was spending on such things as $1,000 toilet seats, and $1,800 screw drivers.

And I remember that John Kerry, when he ran then, his ads included showing the waste in government with him holding up one of those $800 Allen Wrenches.

Meanwhile, the newly invented Ronald Reagan, who slept every afternoon!
grew the deficit from 69B to $279B, just before Bush 1 increased it to $389B..Which we still pay for every week in the forem of interest on the debt.

After Bill Clinton ran on "its the economy supid" he would comb the Federal Budget, line item by line item every morning, asking his cabibet: "If I cut this who will it impact, go find out"

And it was Al Gore who implmented a lot of the cuts in the waste in government. Which he periodically reported on on shows like 20/20...Such as the US government special label cleansor and other products he foud.

So when One thinks of the waste, fraud and abuse over the last 7 years...Such as the 100,000 contractors in Iraq....it is tragic what the Republican Chutzpa party has done.

One could honestly say that the Republicans hate our government and by their governance of it it shows!

Would have liked to have seen a few more elements in this report.

1) Such things as that part of what went down when the Republican Party's largest fundraiser: Abromoff was around and when the Republicans controlled the congress that Earmarks were often embedded into bills AFTER they were passed.

That Republican Aids did a lot of this work AND the tens of Billions that these added up to.

2) Proportionality: We do pay Federal Taxes
and to some degree those funds should by right stimulate various portions of the economy i.e investments that may create more tax payers...and thus the funds woule recycle back.
I.E. RETURN ON THESE AS INVESTMENTS..VERSUS...NOT.
Ie. More BANG FOR THE BUCK.

I.E. Education and schools are one kind of high Return on Investment, but may take a long time to pan out.

This is why I thought your report about a School in Harlem was POOR USE OF YOUR REPORT.

And on the other hand Training or ReTraining the workforce, and those who are unemployed -- which the Republcians equate with Communist Central Planning -- May have a shorter timespan when the investment comes back in the form of taxes from those who are trained.

3) The problem created by Defense companies being located in almost EVERY STATE..Which since the work of legislatiors, by nature, involves back and forth Compromise
This helps create a no win situation..and facilitates (or is part of the mechanics of) the Millitary Industial Complex

And not that he is my candidate, But McCain has in the past worked against bad defense spending...and his party does not like him, not only because of this but BECAUSE he is for campaign finance reform which would eliminate a lot of the STUPID typ of spending that has not Return on Investment and only works like bribing a district.

I would have liked to have seen a more intelligent NUNACED report on Earmarks.

Never having heard before about earmarks, I nearly injured my jaw when it dropped to my desk as I watched this extraordinary piece! I have known about the wheeling and dealing that resulted in so much Iraq War money going to Halliburton and KBR, but I had no idea that this practice pervades the entire federal system! This is the much vaunted democracy that America wants to export? Please, please keep it at home--this is a TERRIBLE way to make decisions that affect people's lives.
A very upsetting piece!

How about an "earmark" for medical insurance grants given to those not covered by a group plan or Medicaid? There are plenty of commonfolk-constituents who would truly benefit from this use of earmarked dollars. If only some kind senator would sneak this one through!!

Two questions linger:

1) Are earmarks inherently unethical, or is it the lame "bridge to nowhere" projects most earmarks are funding that are the problem?

2) If earmarks are inherently unethical, how should Mr. Rangold, for example, go about securing funding for his center? City taxes? State taxes? Are there ever any municipal projects that justify federal funding?

Using Campaign Spending Limits to Get America Better Politicians is the Only Way to Solve America’s Problems Enough

Using Campaign Spending Limits to Get America Better Politicians is the Only Way to Solve America’s Problems Enough

First, I want to Thank TCS for their work. Then I want to thank the seator from Arizona? that has fought every earmark. Gee, 1 person in Congress looking out for our interest. And I thought they worked for us, but "m old and gullable.

First, I want to Thank TCS for their work. Then I want to thank the seator from Arizona? that has fought every earmark. Gee, 1 person in Congress looking out for our interest. And I thought they worked for us, but "m old and gullable.

Moyers folks - Great story tonight. One of the best jobs I've seen communicating the impact of the "congressional chase for earmarks" and the impact on democracy. Hat tip to everyone involved.

Keith Ashdown
Investigator
Taxpayers for Common Sense

P.S. Please come to our website at www.taxpayer.net if you want anymore information on the trouble with special interest earmarks.

Ear-marks seem to me to be simply patronage, and reflect a general motive in American life, both in and out of government to patronize each other. What is ironic is that it is done using money chiseled one way or other from the very ppl being patronized, like some sort-of Mafiosi, and by ppl who constantly preach republican freedom and self-reliance, like Andrew Carnegie, Boss Tweed and other relics of the Gilded Age. The favorite means of which being easy money.

Your program on Earmarks was very informative. I have long been curious about some of the junk, most all of it is junk. I thank you for the information and am so sorry I got so old and so dumb at the same time. These polititians think they are the rulers, guess they forgot how they got to Washington. Thanks again, enjoy your program.

Why doesnt someone file suit against this procedure for obtaining earmarks information, on behalf of the Americans With Disabilities.
Allowing someone to "take notes" but not "copy" information shows a serious inconsistancy.

Money is the most pernicious enemy of the people, a democratic republic and especially our constitution.

Whether considering the orgy of campaign money on the front end, wrought by an ill decided Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision in 1976, or the billions in earmarks and tax favors on the back end - we've gone beyond the ability to govern ourselves until we remove money from our vaunted "Democracy" once and for all through Constitutional Amendment.

Post a comment

THE MOYERS BLOG is our forum for viewers' comments intended for discussing and debating ideas and issues raised on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL. THE MOYERS BLOG invites you to share your thoughts. We are committed to keeping an open discussion; in order to preserve a civil, respectful dialogue, our editors reserve the right to remove or alter any comments that we find unacceptable, for any reason. For more information, please click here.

THE MOYERS BLOG
A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

Your Comments

Podcasts

THE JOURNAL offers a free podcast and vodcast of all weekly episodes. (help)

Click to subscribe in iTunes

Subscribe with another reader

Get the vodcast (help)

For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ